Waukon High School alum reflects on conducting choirs at celebration of 75th anniversary of D-Day in France ...

Waukon High School 1970 graduate Gary Schwartzhoff, a long-time music educator and retired Director of Choral Activities at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, conducted the Paris Choral Festival Concert at Eglise de la Madeleine in Paris, France Monday, July 8 in celebration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Schwartzhoff was listed as the Artistic Director for that Paris Choral Festival, and he conducted more than 350 vocalists involving 13 separate choirs from across the United States during the concert, including his own UW-Eau Claire Alumni Choir. He can be seen in the top submitted photo at right in the center of the photo foreground facing the choir he conducted.

The concert was accompanied by a professional orchestra from Paris, and Schwartzhoff said a Parisian audience of over 700 patrons offered two standing ovations during the performance. “The joining of 13 choral ensembles from across the United States to honor the Greatest Generation was a proud moment for all who came to Paris,” Schwartzhoff reflected. “For many of the performers, the concert celebrating the sacrifice of The Greatest Generation marked the pinnacle of our career. It was our honor to perform at this concert.”
Schwartzhoff said a member of the Parisian orchestra commented following the performance: “Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the American soldiers who gave their lives so that we can live in peace and harmony far from the Second World War barbary. It was a pleasure to play with you. The choir sounds great.”

Many of the choirs, including the UW-Eau Claire Alumni Choir, also performed individually at the American Cemetery on the coast of Normandy, the final resting place of 9,388 Americans who died during World War II and were buried on French soil. Schwartzhoff can also be seen in the center foreground of the bottom submitted photo at right as his UW-Eau Claire Alumni Choir sings the National Anthem while the American flag is raised at the cemetery.

“This hallowed ground is sacred to the sacrifice of these Americans who fought to save the world,” Schwartzhoff shared. “A visit to this cemetery is very touching and focuses one’s attention on their supreme sacrifice. Our time at the American Cemetery to raise the American flag and perform the National Anthem on foreign soil, along with our brief concert, was a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Schwartzhoff further shared a story relating to the American Cemetery learned during earlier preparation for the D-Day celebration event: “In the summer of 2018, we visited with the Military Superintendent at the American Cemetery in Normandy who described the French farmer who donated his farmland following World War II to the United States as the final resting place for 9,388 soldiers. The U.S. government pays a nominal fee to France for the use of this sacred land. What is not obvious to the visitor, is that family members of this generous French farmer still work the grounds to sustain the beauty of this solemn land in 2019.”

Even though Schwartzhoff describes the event in such manners as “once in a lifetime” and “the pinnacle of our career” for many, and also very much appreciated the welcome and ovations received by the choirs he conducted, he ultimately knows that the event was certainly not about him nor the members of his choirs. “Let us always remember the men and women of our military and the rights they have won for us,” he noted.

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